The Earth Conservation Corps (ECC) is a non-profit organization focusing on youth development and environmental stewardship in southeast Washington, DC. Founded in 1992, the organization provides “workforce and leadership development, environmental education and media training” to unemployed and out-of-school youth ages 17-25. ECC’s mission is to empower DC’s youth to reclaim the Anacostia River, their communities, and their lives. Corps members achieve this by cleaning up the polluted river, holding environmental education sessions for surrounding schools and leading volunteers in community service projects.
While the youth participate in the program, they receive career mentoring and professional certification for green industry employment. At the end of their Corps service, they are transitioned to jobs or advanced career training. They also receive a stipend, a $5,000 education award, child-care and health care benefits for their 1700 hours of service. The young adults start to see their environment as a part of their “heritage” and their environmental improvements represent a positive aspect of a community otherwise riddled with violence, high unemployment and high poverty rates.
An average of one Corps member has been murdered almost every year since the program has been in place. With such high numbers of high-school dropouts and job seekers, many teens turn to gangs, drugs and crime. To participants like LaVette Spears, Earth Conservation Corps has given a stronger sense of purpose and a way out of the few options they may have had. LaVette now feels that she and her community need the river to be healthy- and she demonstrates that with the help of Mr. Hoots, a Eurasian eagle-owl who makes his home on the Anacostia.
The Earth Conservation Corps has been successful in reintroducing the bald eagle to its native habitat along the river, hauling tires out of local creeks, and producing films for each of their projects, including a 2-part documentary called “Endangered Species” that exposes a side of DC that tourists rarely see. In a neighborhood only 3 blocks from Capitol Hill but tagged “one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country,” this program’s success and vigor is truly remarkable. To me, the Earth Conservation Corps shows that reclaiming one’s environment can have a healing force, more powerful than the great atrocities these young people have had to live through.
Watch below for a 60 Minutes special on the Earth Conservation Corps: